The local library across the digital and physical city: Opportunities for economic development

Kirralie Houghton
Marcus Foth
Evonne Miller


This paper considers the role of the public library as a community hub, engagement space, and entrepreneurial incubator in the context of the city, city governance, and local government planning. It considers this role from the perspective of library experts and their future visions for libraries in a networked knowledge economy. Public libraries (often operated by or on behalf of local governments) potentially play a pivotal role for local governments in positioning communities within the global digital network. Fourteen qualitative interviews with library experts informed the study which investigates how the relationship between digital technology and the physical library space can potentially support the community to develop innovative, collaborative environments for transitioning to a digital future. The study found that libraries can capitalise on their position as community hubs for two purposes: first, to build vibrant community networks and forge economic links across urban localities; and second, to cross the digital divide and act as places of innovation and lifelong learning. Libraries provide a specific combination of community and technology spaces and have significant tangible connection points in the digital age. The paper further discusses the potential benefits for libraries in using ICT networks and infrastructure, such as the National Broadband Network in Australia. These networks could facilitate greater use of library assets and community knowledge, which, in turn, could assist knowledge economies and regional prosperity.

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